Over the past few months I’ve noticed more title tags and meta descriptions using different types of characters to stand out in the search results. PPC has led the way with uses of planes, bullet points, trade mark symbols. Problem is many adverts get disapproved by Google.

Organically it’s about testing what can and can’t indexed. So below I’ve made a list of characters that will get indexed in a title tag and display in the search engine results. Before the list a few interesting points from this experiment.

  • Using the intitle: command doesn’t work, for example try “intitle:£” in Google and it returns nothing. Yet there are plenty of title tags with the £ symbol.
  • A symbol can be hard-coded into a title tag but when you use a CMS it may try to convert it. Thus meaning to get some of the symbols into titles you’ll need to bypass your CMS or change the way it works.
  • If you have a symbol in the title tag that Google won’t index they’ll skip the character when displaying the title tag in the search result.

To conduct the test I:

  • 11 pages linked to sitewide on another site of mine
  • Each page linked to each other
  • Title tag contacted the special characters, as did the meta description.
  • Waited for all the pages to be indexed and then viewed using a site command with inurl:test as the file names were test1, test2, etc

Here are the valid symbols with screenshots of them in the search results.

´^¯¨¸_-,;:!¡?¿.·”‘””””+””=”«»()[]{}§§¶©®@*/\&%°±±÷<>¬|~

¤¢$££¥ªÁáàÂâÅåÄäÃãÆæÇçÉéÈèÊêËëÍíÌìÎîÏïÑñºÓóÒòÔôÖöÕ

←↑→↓↔⇐⇑⇒()[]{}〕〔›‹〉〈«»⎛⎞⎡⎤⎧⎫⎬⎨⎥⎢⎟⎜⎝⎠⎣⎦⎪⎪⎩⎭ – Note – WordPress won’t display the characters, see screenshot below.

$¢£¥฿₥₤₣₢₡₦₧₨₩₪₯₮₭€₫¤₠₰₱•%‰‱†‡º°˚

©®™

µΩ℃№ℑℜ

①②③④⑤⑥⑦⑧⑨⑩❶❷❸➀➁➂➊➋➌⁰¹²₀₁₂½⅓⅔

ΑΒΓΔΕΖΗΘΙΚΛΜΝΞΠΣΡΤΥζεδγβαΨΧΦθ

ηικλμξπϑωφϕϖ

Theres were plenty that didn’t work including symbols of scissors, aeroplanes, hearts, clubs, spades etc. I’ve noticed some sites already use the trademark and copyright symbols, for example. GHD hair straighteners and Sony. What can you do with symbols above? Here’s a few mock ups that I’ve firebugged

888.com using the numbers 8 to stand out on the term online casino.

My own site using characters before and after the text.

Use the half price for cheap flights offers.

The Church of england using little crosses.

Using a number for Radio 1, pretty cool

Joking aside, over the past few months Google have made several changes to the 1st page has made it difficult for a standard organic ranking.  Product, image, reviews, local, maps listings etch all stand out more than an organic listing. If you have an organic listing in a very competitive market you need to work your title tag and description hard to increase the CTR.

If you’ve liked this post and you have a site with a decent level of traffic why not try out using different characters, use Google Webmaster Tools to see changes in CTR, positive or negative.

If you find any other characters that work, please email johnpcampbell1985 (@) googlemail (.) com or leave a comment below or send me a message on twitter.

Posted in SEO.

One of the standout features from Google Places is the review data being added into the search results. Anyone selling online in the past two / three years will tell you how much impact can be gained from positive third party review of your product or service.

But similar to search rankings you can inflate your positive reviews and …. deflate your competitor’s reviews (don’t do this as it just creates a vicious circle of fake review posting).

Looking at the listings on Google Places currently Google is displaying…

  • Thumbnail picture
  • Address and phone number
  • Finding reviews from various sources
  • Displaying a count for 3 / 4 review sites
  • Creating a total sum for all the reviews
  • Pulling our an average rating out of 5.
  • Sometime displaying a snippet of a review

All those items are optional, the majority of the examples I’ve seen feature all the above, but I’ve also seen some with just the image, address and phone number.

The review site used doesn’t even have to have any microformats data. Google will count a citation of the hotel’s address and phone number with a comment as a review. For example http://www.adoniscabaret.co.uk/ is listed as a review site for the Norwood Hotel in Blackpool. The review isn’t in any microformat, its coded in atag in a table.

So it seems you don’t even need reviews to be on “review site”, I’ve seen a hotel review located on a chef site, beerintheevening etc.

Tip 1. Make citations to your hotel on other sites, even if it’s not a hotel review site. Use the full address, phone number and then list review under a heading “Customer Review”

It appears such reviews won’t contribute to the star rating, this only appears to come from bigger sites such as Trip Advisor, where microformats are in place or Google have been willing to scrape the data.

In general it looks better to have more reviews than less reviews. E.g. a place with 4 reviews doesn’t seem as good as a place with 452 reviews.

To work out which sites are being used to source the reviews I’ve recorded and counted the review sites over 10 search terms, on average listing 6 local listings with 3 to 4 review sites for each listing.

I picked the key phrase “hotels in… Blackpool, Preston, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, London”

The below table shows the review sites listed often. In total there were 230 review sites listed.

Trip Advisor came out top with 63 listing over the 10 different search results. Booking.com and Active Hotels were also popular. Interestingly sometimes different domains of the same site are used e.g. Trip Advisor uk, com, ie, in all list as separate sites.

One site managed a list a review from the same domain??

Tip 2. Get listed on the most popular sites in your sector. Look for local listings sites, e.g. Sites with the location in the URL.

Strangely at the moment it doesn’t appear if that any of the reviews given to Google directly are being displayed in the search engine results. On each local business listing (e.g. the midland hotel) Google users can add reviews, this doesn’t seem to be used or listed as a review site.

Clicking the “xxx reviews Place page” or stars takes you to your local business listing with Google. This is going to be getting a higher level of traffic due to the link being more prominent on the page and being next to the stars. People will want to check over a couple of review before considering the hotel or making a booking.

Tip 3. Ensure you have claimed your local business listing on Google, filled out as much information as possible and respond to any negative comments in a professional and positive manner.

Most of these tips should be relevent in other sectors restaurants, services etc. The difference will be the review sites, for restaurants e.g. Tipped, Urban Spoon etc. If you looking to improve you rank I would suggest counting which review sites are being listed and start to add reviews onto those sites.

In the spreadsheet linked below the first worksheet contains the review sites in the hotels sector. So if your promoting a hotel I would suggest looking over the list and ensure your hotel is listed on the top sites. I’ll expand the spreadsheet over time adding in which review sites are referenced in different sectors e.g. restaurants, local services etc

https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AjxfcMN-m2jndHlmNElUVkpDYWgxZHZuMmRGeEF1YlE&hl=en_GB

It’s going to be interesting over the next couple of months to see more review services popping up, how the result change and more importantly how Google handle people’s problems with Google places, the official forums are notorious for being full of complaints, people pointing out errors and very very frustrated local business owners. I’ve got a feeling that a few more business owners are going to be getting even more frustrated with Google.

A little test, recent changes with Google Street view allow you to report a problem with images.  While on the location with a problem there’s a little link at the bottom to “report a problem”.

After that you explain what is the problem and you fill in a form. You’ll get a email and a couple of days later the image is gone. I tested this out last week and today the intersection near to the local chippy now is a black screen.

The point is that there is no control over me deleting images in front of businesses. Many business such as hotels and restaurants will be getting extra trade from people being able to ‘check out’ the location before hand. This report an problem has created a free for all allowing competition to literally wipe you off the map.

Infographics are the ‘in’ thing to produce at the moment for link baiting. If you haven’t come across one they can be summed up as

Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly[1], such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. – Wikipedia

A few examples can be seen at Infographics directory site www.infographicsshowcase.com. The best infographics are gennerally ones based on a subject matter of current interest, so this week could be a on the Ashes with England going over to Australia or about Cargo planes after the bomb scare.

In order to make infographic you need some raw data, and here’s a list of 5 sites which can supply you with the vital data.

1. UK National Statistics http://www.statistics.gov.uk/hub/

The Publication Hub at the UK National Statistics is a first port of call for all those seeking the latest statistics from government departments in the UK. It is the central website for hosting all first releases of National Statistics. New data is released daily on whole range of subjects from Taxation, Wars, Education, Hospitals, Business and growth etc etc. All free to download and there’s a release calendar of up and coming reports.

URL : http://www.statistics.gov.uk/hub/

2. Guardian Data Store http://www.guardian.co.uk/data-store

Lots of different types of data in different areas. There’s also some on going data generation on the War in Afganistan, Swine Flu etc. There’s a list of Applications, a API to grab data directly. Keep up to data with new data via the twitter account. You should also look at how the Guardian use the data in their  news stories producing graphs, flash animations etc.

URL : http://www.guardian.co.uk/data-store

3. BBC Backstage http://ideas.welcomebackstage.com/

At the moment it looks like it’s been shut down but some of the data and feeds are being kept live. There’s data in the form of RSS, API’s, a music API etc all that can be downloaded sorted and then visualised. Similar to the Guardian the BBC create some great info infographics in articles and features on the site, recently the reporting of the July 7th enquiry and the Chilean miners generated some brilliant pages of information which generated plenty of links.

URL : http://ideas.welcomebackstage.com/data

4. London Data Store http://data.london.gov.uk/

There are other places in the UK than London but the London Data Store has some great information on transport, education results, crime, emergency services etc. It’s a pretty new site but there is more and more data being added on a regular basis as well as a growing community.

URL : http://data.london.gov.uk/datasets

5. Data.Gov.UK http://data.gov.uk/

Probably the most well known from this list. The official Government site for UK has lots of data, help and a great community behind it. There’s an ideas section where people are submitting ideas for the release of data and then what to do with the data once it’s available. A selection of apps also show what has been created so far e.g. mash up maps, iphone aps etc. You may be able to use one of the existing apps to find data for your infographic.

URL : http://data.gov.uk/

Bonus 6. Data.Gov http://www.data.gov/

Similar to Data.Gov.UK but for the United states of America. Again plenty of information often country wide but also organised by state which can lead to som interesting data. Many infographics have been created as a result of the data generated out of Data.Gov

URl : http://www.data.gov

On Friday it was the #MancSEO Mini Conference at the Hive Building in the Northern Quater. A free event thanks to sponsorship from the Eword and Manual Link Building organised by Pete Young. Four speakers in total all with some interesting views and data to share.

There’s a few blog posts with reviews of the presentations on other blogs so I’m not going to write another one. Drinks after at The Warlus bar were free for a bit thanks to the Eword. Overall a great afternoon and evening!

Another day and another new product from Google launched. This change had been on the cards for some time, as long as six months ago screen shots of “the map on the right” have been posted on various SEO blogs.

Surveying some results I’ve noticed problems with the results on certain key phrases. For example

Hotels in Blackpool” returned some affiliate sites one being www.blackpoolhotels.com. Here’s the old listing with that site ranking at position 3.

In the new listings with Google Place Search live, Google have taken the listing for www.blackpoolhotels.com and added to the map – Map Icon B

For the average user, they would assume that the maps points are different hotels located in Blackpool. You wouldn’t want to stay at the hotel at Map Icon B, it’s at the end of the runway at Blackpool Airport.

It looks like Google have done this due to www.blackpoolhotel.com listing their address in the footer of everypage.

This problem could happen for directory sites, affiliates for any type of local business, bloggers, etc anyone who had a physical address on the page and end up with some very confused people turning up at affiliates houses.

Paul over at the Dave Naylor blog noted a similar problem with Late Rooms, who’s head office is in Manchester. Google is using that as the hotel location.

Here’s a neat solution to find the Page Rank score for multiple domains / pages. Using Google docs you can use an addon script to pull out page rank. Made by dr.nailz all you do is reference the cell that contains the domain

=iferror(pageRank(A2),”N/A”)

The iferror just displays a N/A if there is no returned result.

Just head over to this public spreadsheet to try it out

>> Multiple Domain Page Rank Checking Tool >>

If you fancy a PR 7 site here’s three simple steps to achieve a PR 7 site.

1) Make some popular wordpress plugins such as these

2) Make your plugin link back to your site using a hidden link so the person who installs the plugin doesn’t know about the link.

3) Sit and watch the PR come in http://www.sterling-adventures.co.uk/blog/ and then sell links to argos and confussed.com

Big respect the guy / gal who did this!

It looks like the dust is starting to settle after yesterday’s  announcement of Google Instant. As ever PR people decided to pronounce the death of SEO.  After looking over a number of blogs today, testing out several queries two main points stick out to me.

1. Suggest has been around for a while

Google has been funnelling people into a certain key phrase since summer 2009. Google Suggest which was a Google labs project (99% sure it was) was rolled out and at the time many predicted that the long tail would reduce as users would be shifted to searching for the phrases they were suggested.

I don’t remember there being any major shifts in traffic on any the sites I worked on.

The difference this time is the results are being displayed to the user, this could have more of effect on the user being guided into a suggested search.  That all depends on if the user is looking at the screen while typing. Gut feeling is that the majority of users do look at their keyboard while typing so they are oblivious to the changing serps and will type their full query regardless of what is happening on the screen.

So what people search for will remain the same, long tail quieres will still be conducted, all depends on if they keep their head up!

2.  Being Good at SEO is even more important

Gaining a top position is even more important, e.g. an organic ranking not in the top 3 is useless. Two reasons, one the layout suggests people will instantly look at the number one ranking as the page changes (PPC if present unless the organic rank has sitelinks). This should happen as its the shortest distance from where your eyes were focused e.g. the search box. This means people are not going to look at the ads on the right hand side and results lower down the page. An eye tracking study on the new interface and old with the same key phrases would be very interesting.

Also with the other suggestions being displayed below the search box this physically pushes one or two organic ranks below the fold (depending on the size of your monitor). So if your not getting your clients rankings in the top three positions you beter get link building.  take this example.

Old style Google has 7 Full organic listings

For Google instant you have 5 listing and just the title of the 6th listing

So some interesting changes to have to take into consideration when predicting CTR . Whatever the outcome for PPC and SEO campaigns I’m sure one thing is certain, Google will be making more money out of this!